“The forces that threaten to negate life must be challenged by courage, which is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of life’s ambiguities.  This requires the exercise of a creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech which was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.  Interestingly enough, the speech he gave was not the speech he had prepared to give.  Part of the lore surrounding this iconic speech is that Dr. King extemporaneously delved into the dream portion of the speech after his friend, Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, shouted, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” He followed this prompting despite the fact that some of his advisors felt strongly he should not talk about that “dream stuff”, going so far as to call it “trite” and “cliché.”

I am awed by this.  I can’t imagine the kind of courage it must have taken to go “off script” and ignore one’s handlers while speaking to 250,000 people who were hot, tired, and already starting to wander away from the rally. Not to mention the fact that it was an historic event that was being televised around the world!  But that was not only one kind of courage in evidence on that day.

Dreaming in the Dark
It takes courage to dream dreams and cast vision for something that others are not quite able to see yet.  It takes courage to stand for something that other well-meaning folks—including other Christians and fellow clergy—think is wrong.

It takes courage to “go public” with a dream that has been born in places as tender and private as the dream that, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

It takes courage to allow a vision to incubate in the depths of one’s own soul—that place where God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirits about things that are true—and then to offer it up as light for the world when it feels like darkness is closing in.

It takes courage to know what you know and to act on it, regardless of the fact that you may well lose your life in service of this dream. It takes courage to dream anyway, knowing that to stop dreaming would be a different kind of death.

Celebrating the Dream
Today, let us celebrate the courage it takes to dream. Let us commemorate a dream that is as powerful and needed today as it was in 1963.  Today—in the midst of alarming racial tensions, tragic loss of life, and violent unrest between nations and peoples—we celebrate a minister of the Gospel who, in spite of fear and reluctance, rose to the occasion on a sweltering August day. With strength of soul and the courage of his convictions, he preached the good news of human dignity and equality for all God’s children in words and images so real and compelling we could all see it together.

If we are honest, we must acknowledge (painfully) that the dream Dr. King and so many others have dreamed has not yet been fully accomplished; we are still in the throes of learning what makes for peace across lines of race, gender, socioeconomic status and religious differences. But it is also true that we are farther along than if he had not dared to dream.

As we continue to grieve recent tragedies and experience profound disillusionment, may his courage give us courage to keep dreaming and praying yes, but also working for respect, forbearance and equality among all people. Dr. King’s voice rings as needed and true today as it did over fifty years ago, “So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream!”

©Ruth Haley Barton. 2014. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Top image: By Unknown? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How do we keep dreaming and working for racial equality even in the face of recent tragedies?


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